Brett Poirier · Tuesday October 15, 2013
After winning the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup at Chicago last fall, Brad Keselowski compared the championship to a heavyweight title bout.
“Week 1 is done and we won the round, but we didn’t by any means knock them out,” Keselowski said. “We’ve got a lot of racing left to go. We’re feeling good about today, but know that we have a lot of work to do.”
He was the ultimate underdog, in only his second Chase, never having contended for the championship before and he was up against the driver who had won five of the last six championships. Before Tony Stewart did it in 2011, Johnson seemed nearly unbeatable in the final 10-race stretch. Stewart was a two-time champion before that, though. He had been tested numerous times. Keselowski hadn’t.
It didn’t matter. Keselowski held the confidence of a 10-time champion, talked the talk and backed it up on the racetrack. Eventually, Keselowski knocked out Johnson, in an upset of Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson proportions.
In his celebration at Homestead, the champion had a little too much Miller Lite and gave some of the funniest interviews you’ll ever see. He later proclaimed he was going to buy a tank in hopes that his neighbor, Dale Earnhardt Jr. could buy one, too, and they could play in the woods.
All that could only come from Keselowski.
Love him or hate him, life is more interesting with him around. The restrictor plate that most drivers place on their responses isn’t there with Keselowski. He’s honest to a fault, isn’t afraid to challenge the top drivers in the sport, or NASCAR itself.
It’s a shame he didn’t make the Chase field. This year’s battle between Matt Kenseth and Johnson is interesting in its own right. They’re both unbelievably talented drivers with the two best teams in the garage right now. But Kenseth and Johnson are also two of the most reserved personalities around. Not much excites them outside of winning, and in interviews, they always come off like they’re holding something back.
Even with his victory at Charlotte, the likelihood that Keselowski would’ve given those two a run for their money isn’t high. The consistency just hasn’t been there for the No. 2 team this season. With five races to go, Keselowski has 13 top 10s compared with 23 last year. He also hasn’t been a threat to beat the mighty Gibbs and Hendrick cars very often.
Still, placing the defending-champion in the Chase would’ve been worth some entertainment value because no one would’ve been able to convince Keselowski that he wasn’t going to win it.
Plus, it would make moments like the Kansas driver’s meeting—where he asked if intentional wrecking fit into NASCAR’s “100-percent rule”—that much more interesting.
Johnson was quoted as saying Keselowski needed to “mature” at the start of the season, and maybe he’s right, but there’s a lot some of the mature drivers could learn from Keselowski. Giving honest, thought-provoking responses and loosening up every now and then would be a start.
For example, when Keselowski was asked about the decision to take four tires on the final pit stop, a move that won him the race Sunday, he responded, “I wanted four, and I wasn’t leaving until he put lefts on it.” He continued, “If he wouldn’t have put four on, I was going to yell and scream like a little kid.”
The only yelling and screaming he did was in Victory Lane. It was refreshing to see a non-Chase driver win a race, but it was just as refreshing to see one of NASCAR’s premier personalities back on top for a week after a rough season.
After the race, he also was asked if he bought that tank yet.
“No, but I might have a little more funding to go get one now, so I guess that’s good, right?” Keselowski said. “I’ve got to win a couple more this year.”
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